Indiana High School Replaces All Textbooks with Laptops

October 20th, 2011

From the Times:

Unlike the tentative, incremental steps of digital initiatives at many schools nationwide, Munster made an all-in leap in a few frenetic months — removing all math and science textbooks for its 2,600 students in grades 5 to 12, and providing a window into the hurdles and hiccups of such an overhaul.

The transformation, which cost $1.1 million for infrastructure, involved rewiring not just classrooms but also the mindset of students, teachers and parents. When teachers started hearing that “the server ate my homework,” they knew a new era had begun.

“The material we’re teaching is old but everything around it is brand-new,” said Pat Premetz, chairwoman of the math department at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, who described the initiative as both “very overwhelming” and “the most exciting thing to happen in my 40 years of teaching.”

“This isn’t stressing out students,” Ms. Premetz added. “It’s stressing out teachers because of some of the technological problems, and parents who are wondering why their kids are on the computer so much.”

Munster is hardly the first district to go digital. Schools in Mooresville, N.C., for example, started moving away from printed textbooks four years ago, and now 90 percent of their curriculum is online. “It didn’t happen overnight for us — it was an incremental change,” said Mark Edwards, Mooresville’s superintendent of schools. “The competency is evolutional.”

But Munster’s is part of a new wave of digital overhauls in the two dozen states that have historically required schools to choose textbooks from government-approved lists. Florida, Louisiana, Utah and West Virginia approved multimedia textbooks for the first time for the 2011-12 school year, and Indiana went so far as to scrap its textbook-approval process altogether, partly because, officials said, the definition of a textbook will only continue to fracture.

This new approach has some pros, including instant feedback.

When the children followed up the lesson with exercises on their laptops, the curriculum,Pearson Education’s “Digits,” not only allowed them to advance at individual rates, but also alerted Ms. Bartolomeo via her iPad when they were stuck on a particular concept and needed help.

Software wirelessly recorded the children’s performance in a file that the teacher would review that night. “Last year I’d have to walk around and ask every kid how it’s going, and I’d be grading sheets, that kind of thing,” Ms. Bartolomeo said. “This way I can give my time to the kids who really need it. And it’s a lot more engaging for the kids. They’re actually doing their homework now.”